It’s time for both presidential campaigns to present their theories of the case.

As is often the norm on the campaign trail and in the media, surrogates or partisan analysts represent the candidates before the court of public opinion. Leading the prosecution for Republican challenger Mitt Romney in this week’s issue of Time Magazine is Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. E.J. Dionne, a columnist for the Washington Post, defends the incumbent President Barack Obama.

In his opening arguments, Lowry touts the benefits of the policy proposals Romney would implement as president. The former Massachusetts governor would introduce a “premium support” model for Medicare to ensure the program remains solvent and costs less for future seniors, repeal Obama’s healthcare law and replace it with free-market alternatives that would expand health insurance coverage through innovation at a fraction of the cost, and champion tax reform that lowers rates, eliminates loopholes and spurs business investment.

Dionne takes a more contextual approach in his opening arguments, asking the simple question once posed by Ronald Reagan: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” He says the answer is a resounding yes, referencing the president’s success in pulling the country back from the brink of a second Great Depression. Unemployment has decreased, millions of private sector jobs have been created and the housing market is beginning to stabilize.

Tensions flare during the cross examination of witnesses such as the middle class. Obama made the right choice when he opted against austerity programs that have led to economic stagnation in Europe and punish middle and lower-income citizens, Dionne argues. But Lowry counters that without crucial reforms, the president would be forced to broadly raise taxes on middle-income families to finance skyrocketing spending on entitlement programs.

Both make emotional appeals to undecided voters sitting on the jury bench. Mitt Romney might be calculating, but he’s a decent man that would never publicly call someone a “bullshitter.” Obama has endured some bitter political battles as president, but he would never dismiss 47 percent of Americans.

So how does the jury decide? Both attorneys have framed the issues according to their theories of the case, but where’s the central argument that all members can agree upon?

Researchers Nam-Jin Lee, Douglas McLeod and Dhavan Shah have found that issue frames in the media might influence citizens to weigh different considerations while they form opinions without necessarily altering them. For instance, Lowry’s pitch that Romney will modernize government for the 21st century and Dionne’s claim that Obama is the only candidate for progress and a government that serves the common good might not sway any voters, but it could affirm the direction they’re leaning by shaping their view of the future.

Voters must decide whether the country will continue to proceed on the right track under Obama or whether the bold reforms proposed by Romney are necessary to restore economic vitality and fiscal solvency. Let’s enter the deliberation room.


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